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Robert Thompson identified community as one of his seven models, or perspectives, in his 2007 paper on cultural models and social conflict (Coastal Management, 2007, 35, 211-237). He states that the primary focus of this model is social interaction, proper behaviour and sense of place. Rather than individuals isolating themselves behind boundaries and thus removing themselves from the society that may have formed at that place, this model looks at the implications arising where individual landowners or frequent users of that coastal place embed themselves in a community with common or shared values and interests. There is an inherent expectation that members of that community will treat each other with respect and not use their property in ways that may cause a common law nuisance or adversely impact on others. One of the key drivers behind the model is the expectation of “proper behaviour”.

In the United States there are many examples of how communities with shared interests can behave in ways to shut out “outsiders” or even “newcomers”. This can arise when communities claim private beach access. Thompson cites several cases, the one that is apocryphal is the story of the busload of people from Kansas descending on the wealthy community of Malibu in California and walking through and peering into houses en route to the beach! There is both an invasion of community privacy at stake here and the dreaded fear that such intruders will not know how to behave properly. Increasing mobility of visitors and increased purchases of coastal property bringing newcomers to a treasured coastal place who are unaware of community practices and standards can be a source of conflict. Breaking such code may lead to community members taking the law into their own hands in ways they may be quite shocking elsewhere. However, the beach can be seen by others as a place “where people go to escape the rules and expectations of society; the beach has been a place to misbehave”. Social conflict can easily erupt in such circumstances involving lawless mobs, misuse of vehicles and excessive noise which exceed the limits of tolerance of those who live in the area.

Stocker and Kennedy (Coastal Management, 2009, 37, 387-404) have also examined the community perspective from an Australian point of view. They note how the coast is used as a rite of passage for many defining significant life experiences. These experiences have been the source of much coastal literature such as the works of Tim Winton. Greater freedom of access to our beaches and waterways is more acceptable in Australia although this has not always been the case. The fight to open Bondi to the public between 1811 and 1882 is a good example. These authors note how the sovereignty model can conflict with community model including cases where investors can purchase coastal properties without any understanding of community values or practices. They point to the emergence of Dunecare/Coastcare and so-called friend groups within communities who may seek to impose their values on others. In this instance, they raise the question “should a Coastcare group have sway with a local government because of their knowledge of and commitment to the coast, or are they an unrepresentative group of the leisured, articulate class”.

Australia will experience increased population and investment pressure along many parts of its coast over the next 30 or more years. New communities will emerge and we must expect values to clash. I have seen examples of communities seeking to pressure governments to “pull up the drawbridge”. Resistance to development and hence change can be locally quite strong; yet local governments must find ways to smooth over tensions. It becomes even more difficult in handling clashes of cultures involving visitors with different backgrounds or even seeking different ways to enjoy public space.


Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect Bruce Thom’s thoughts and reference where appropriately: (c) ACS, 2016, posted 20th September 2016, for correspondence about this blog post please email